There’s Something In The Bushes

There’s Something In The Bushes

Last night, my wife called me to the bedroom to look at something outside.

“What is that?” she said.

In the bushes, something glowed.

I said it looked like a reflection, but as a car passed by, the object seemed to emit its own light. Light from headlights didn’t affect it at all.

My wife said, “I wonder if someone threw a cigarette in the bushes?”

“It’s kind of…up there,” I said. “Like it’s floating.”

“Well, if there’s a discarded cigarette in the bushes, best to head down to put it out.”

Downstairs

Standing before the bushes, the light was gone. What was there a moment before had vanished. Could it have been a one-eyed cat looking directly at a light on an angle different than the road? Maybe the cat heard us approaching and took off?

“Is that a cable?” my wife said.

It definitely looked like a cable in the bushes.

And if it had been glowing, I wanted to be sure it was done. I got a much closer look and saw a metal clasp — the source of the reflection. I realized it wasn’t a cable; instead, it looked like…shoelaces? As I pulled on the black cord, I felt something swing out of the bushes.

At the end of the lanyard now in my hand was a key.

My First Thought

Upon seeing the key, my first thought was, “We need to look for the trap door beneath the bushes that this key opens!”

In my mind, we had found a key to a different realm. Then I realized someone probably just lost their apartment key…or maybe a kid prone to losing their key was forced by their parents to wear it on a lanyard. Maybe bullies grabbed it and threw it in the bushes? Regardless of how it got there, it didn’t open a secret door.

And that made me kind of sad.

Sunday Night Sorrow

There was a time when Sunday nights depressed me. Sunday nights meant the weekend was over and a return to the day job was near.

I like my job these days, so that feeling is a thing of the past. But last night, in that moment of thinking, “This key is special,” it reminded me that I had a long weekend full of adventure. I saw people I cared about, and my wife and I spent a lot of time together. We even did this. So for the first time in a loooooooong time, I felt my heart sink a little bit at the thought of returning to work.

I’d spent five days living the life I imagined when I was 20 years old. I spent a little time traveling. I spent time writing. I spent time with my wife. Full time — not interrupted by any schedule but those we agreed upon.

Strange Perspectives

The feeling didn’t last long because, now that I’m in my 40s, I know the life we imagined at 20 is an unlikely thing. The day job is good and affords the luxury of a fun day trip, time with my wife, and time to write and make other things I enjoy making.

But finding that key — if only for a moment — represented something more. Putting the adventure through a magic portal thought aside, the key still represented open possibilities on a Sunday night. Not knowing what door it opened, it could open anything I imagined. Instead of ending a great and long weekend to return to work, that key could have opened something bigger than the usual routine.

My Key Ring

That key — that glowing key — represented so many possibilities. Of course, so does writing and all the other things I do.

If I look at a story, a novel, 4-5 podcasts a month, blog entries, and other things I make…I’m like the guy with a big key ring [full of possibilities]. And because I make these things regularly, a day is more likely to come along when one of those keys will open something really cool.

The Benefit of Taking Chances

The Benefit of Taking Chances

Tomasz Stasiuk is a cool guy…the kind of person you’re glad to know.

I would have never known Tomasz if I didn’t say “Yes, we can do that…”

How I Met Tomasz

I met Tomasz three years ago at a tech conference. Well, let me back up…I met Tomasz three years ago at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport.

Tomasz lives in Colorado and was coming in for OpenCamp Dallas 2010. I live in the area, and my wife and I were looking forward to the conference. I had the day off work because construction in the area was (still is) heavy, so we planned to head to the hotel early and check in before traffic picked up. We wanted to get settled and enjoy the evening before the conference officially started. But then we saw Tomasz’s message on Twitter, asking if anyone was willing to give him a ride to the hotel.

A Great Weekend

I won’t go into my stories about picking up hitchhikers; I don’t do that anymore, but I miss the feeling of meeting someone completely new out of nowhere. So I asked my wife if she minded changing plans and picking Tomasz up at rush hour. A little searching online revealed that he [probably] wouldn’t arrive at the airport in a hockey mask with an ax and ask us to wait with him at the baggage carousel so he could retrieve a duffel bag full of severed heads.

So…worst case: we’d all have a quiet, maybe even awkward ride to the conference. We’d have still helped someone, and that’s always cool. Best case: we’d make a new friend.

I won’t bore you with details about meeting Tomasz or the conference…I’ll just say that changing our plans to pick him up was what I really expected: meeting a new person with similar interests and chatting about things we all loved. The ride to the conference was a blast, and times at the conference together were fun. We’ve stayed in touch — mostly through Google+ — and I’m confident I’ll see Tomasz again in person one day.

The Benefit of Saying Yes

It would have been so easy to ignore Tomasz’s Tweet about the ride to the conference or have said, “We’re too busy,” “We have other plans,” or, “How do we know you won’t attack us with a Garden Weasel?!” But it was even easier to say, “Sure, we pass the airport on the way and we will give you a ride to the conference.”

It was a nice weekend, full of great presentations and people. It was a break from busy times at work — a weekend spent with my wife geeking out on the technology we love. But looking back on that weekend, the best thing about it was saying yes to a complete stranger and leaving the conference with a new friend.

* * *

Another benefit of being friends with Tomasz? Getting to see cool photos of Colorado he takes, like the one used with this blog entry.

The Legacy at the End of the Day

The Legacy at the End of the Day

I ended a recent blog entry with the following thought:

Sometimes we spend so much time thinking about the legacy we will leave behind when we’re dead and gone that we don’t think about what we’ll leave behind at the end of the day.

I’ve been thinking about legacy quite a bit this past week. In a week’s time, three people I’ve known died.

The Old Man at the Juggling Club

I met Kumar Pallana at the Dallas Jugglers’ Association in the late 80s. Because I always wanted to learn a bit of everything, I was drawn to the older guy who appeared one day at the club with plates. He taught me how to flip them around my body, how to time things just right to move them around tabletops while they flopped and wobbled their way around, and even how to spin them on sticks. This was the kind of thing I saw as a kid growing up, and there I was…thanks to this quiet man at the Dallas Jugglers’ Association, I was doing things I never imagined doing. Every week, I looked forward to seeing Kumar; it meant a lot to me that he liked the way I juggled.

Kumar died on October 10. It would be easy to say his legacy is being “that quirky guy in Wes Anderson movies,” or even in the variety acts he did earlier in his career. I’ll remember him as the kind man who taught me cool things at the Dallas juggling club, the guy who smiled while watching me juggle…the guy who said, “That’s really good,” while nodding to let you know when you got things right. Everyone who met Kumar talked about how kind he was.

He was all that, and so much more (the story of his life is pretty damn cool). That’s what makes up a legacy.

The Rituals of Kumar Pallana from Dark Rye on Vimeo.

B…

I sat next to B at the first office job I had where I wasn’t on the phone. He was quiet — even standoffish to many. We chatted in the mornings; I found out things about him and built on that. Sometimes he’d try talking sports with me, but I don’t really follow sports, so I’d nod and listen.

One Tuesday morning, he said, “A plane just hit the World Trade Center.”

We figured it had to be a small plane and no terribly big deal, but still — the two of us got up and went to the break room to check out what was up on television. Obviously, it was much more than a small plane that hit the North Tower.

When the second plane hit, B said, “I do believe we’re under attack…”

On October 15, B went into his garage, sat in his car, put a shotgun in his mouth, and pulled the trigger. In a Facebook post left before doing what he did, he made it clear to all that the legacy [to some] he left behind that day was 30+ years in the making…

William

On October 11, my brother-in-law William sat in his car and shot himself dead. Two suicides in less than a week.

Not long after reading the news about Kumar dying, we got the call that William was dead.

He also left behind a legacy…

The Legacy at the End of the Day

Some of us live 94 years of adventure before collapsing on the way to a bridge game, leaving a life of travel and a certain degree of fame behind. The story of Kumar Pallana’s life is worth repeating, but it was in Kumar’s daily routines — routines not too much different than we all do — where much of his legacy lies. It was in routine things that Kumar found a foundation that allowed him to do cool things that he would share with anyone willing to join in the routine.

It would be a shame to see B’s and William’s legacies defined by their final actions at the end of their days…the end of their lives. Many people see suicide as an act of weakness, but there takes a certain strength to go on — at least in B’s case — for over 30 years when something in your head repeatedly tells you, “Stop!”

I don’t know how long William found strength to go on, but the decision to end one’s own life is rarely a sudden thing.

Everyday Strength

It’s easy to look at everyday life and want something more: adventure instead of traffic; an exciting dream job instead of sitting in a cubicle or standing all day in a warehouse or factory. From a young age, many of us are told we can be anything we want to be when we grow up, and that’s not always true. The likelihood of me writing fiction full time is slim; a majority of kids playing sports and dreaming of the day they play professionally will never see that dream come true.

So there takes, for many, a certain everyday strength to go on. Some, like Kumar, find cool things along the way and make it their lives. But most people, as much as we like to believe all dreams come true as long as we put in the effort, never see those big dreams realized.

Every Day, Strength

I’ve juggled for over 32 years at the time of writing this. At the time of writing this, I have lived over 44 years. I first thought about ending my own life when I was 6. I last thought of it shortly before my 40th birthday. I am not Kumar or B or William, but I know a thing or two about the routine that allows one to juggle well. I know a thing or two about the routine of waking up and moving forward even when you don’t want to.

There is no shame in any of the legacies the three men I’ve written about have left behind. I’m sure if present and asked, all three men would say the best thing they left behind were their children.

Every day, until the end, there was a certain strength that carried them all through — until the day came where they left so much behind. I don’t know what my legacy will be when I’m gone, but I know that so much of it will come from what I do with everyday things…

In Quiet Hours

In Quiet Hours

It’s quiet right now…

Dark.

Just the way I like it…

Early.

The world is still asleep. Everything is still, and the day is full of potential.

A Matter of Time

This time matters. Eyes are opening — some dreading the day that’s ahead; others welcoming it. Some just want to go back to sleep — if smart phones have done nothing else, it makes calling or emailing the boss from bed to tell them you’re “sick” a convenience. Roll back over while everything is still warm and settled to your shape and see if you can get back to that dream where everything was all right.

For others: “Just ten more minutes of sleep…” The smell of coffee creeping beneath doors, telling some that it’s okay to rise. Cups raised, resting on chins; savor the smell of morning. The sounds of closing car doors and engines…wheels on pavement and the squeal of bus brakes. Just like that, the world is alive, a humming thing in the darkness of nothing.

It’s Time

It’s time to get moving. Close the Word file and finish this entry. Drag out the work computer and swap places with my own laptop. Log on and jump into the workday, wishing I had just ten more minutes to do my own thing, to keep this moment of silence alive.

If I do nothing else today, I will have at least written this.

Sometimes we spend so much time thinking about the legacy we will leave behind when we’re dead and gone that we don’t think about what we’ll leave behind at the end of the day.

The Wisdom of the Dead

The Wisdom of the Dead

This blog entry written by Jay Lake is…remarkable. (Sad, but remarkable.)

I’m not sure I’ve seen someone put into words what it’s like to stare death in the face as well as Lake.

The Instant Sage

It’s weird being around a dying person. Many people seem to think the dying have the answers to all that ails the living. Maybe it’s because many people like easy answers, or at least inspiration — even at the expense of one on their way out for good. Get a disease that marks you as dead and, the closer you get to the end, the more “wise” some people may see you.

All it takes is a life-threatening illness to be seen as someone with the big insight!

The Enlightened One

I cared for my sister when she was dying from cancer. At clinics and hospitals, I noticed people around us who weren’t dying looking at my sister with a weird mix of pity and sadness…but also like she had answers. People who worked up the courage to talk to her treated her as though she could give them an answer that would make their lives better while her life continued to decay. It’s as if people believe once one knows they are dying, suddenly a flood of wisdom falls into their heads (tucked in between all the tumors in my sister’s case) just waiting to be dispensed.

If I tell a person, “It’s important to appreciate the little things in life,” they might nod and say, “Yep!” But coming from my sister during the years she had cancer, the very same phrase carried weight to those who spoke with her. They might not change a thing about their lives, but in that moment as they nodded and swore they’d take that to heart, it was clear they were sincere if nothing else.

A Matter of Perspective

The dying aren’t necessarily wise — at least no more or less than anyone else. My father also died from cancer. In the time leading up to his death, he partied harder than ever and ran himself more ragged than the disease that consumed him. There was no wisdom to dispense because he knew what was coming and he did what he could to have some wild memories before his memories were no more.

If you didn’t read the Jay Lake post I linked to above, here’s what he has to say about dying and wisdom:

It doesn’t grant me any special wisdom or insight, but it does give me perspective.

In dying, I’d dare say Jay Lake is living more than most people I know. He’s traveling, seeing people he loves, and doing what he can to keep going until he can go no more. I’m sure perspective factors into that, but from what I can see, he’s continuing with the life he’s always lived. Call it wisdom, perspective, or something else — but most of the people I’ve seen marked for death continued their lives mostly the way they lived them. In whatever perspective comes to them, they see that the wild notions of skydiving, climbing mountains, and finally mastering the street luge isn’t going to happen with a body pumped full of Cisplatin.

And yet, people still rush about and stress and find it hard to relax, even though the dying ones tell us to take it easy. Don’t work so much overtime. Spend time with people you love. Do some things you enjoy that you can repeat. Challenge yourself with something bigger now and then, but more than not, sustain a happy life before it’s too late.

That’s what the dying tell us.

And so many — including those who seek whatever perspective the dying have — nod in the moment and then go back to their hurried pace before encountering another dying seer.

The Wisdom of the Dead

When my sister died, many of her friends read this poem she wrote:

I am a tapestry of all the people
Who have touched my life.
Good or bad, they’ve given me something
And I hope that I’ve given in return.

Rainbow people, in pastel hues,
Lend me their calm tranquility,
Their love of all things that the sun
Kisses with golden hand.
People of vibrant purples and reds
Offer passion and conviction in their beliefs and causes.

So many different colored threads to be woven,
Day by day and warp by warp.
I hope when my work is finally over
And I can show the end result,
That I have done justice to you all
And the wonderful gifts you’ve given me.

The poem seems to indicate that maybe there is a flood of wisdom reserved for the dying, an uncanny ability to know what the living need to hear. Clearly my sister is saying thank you to those who helped her and hoping she gave something to those who knew her in return. (She is.) The funny thing about his poem? It was written in 1989, long before my sister was sick.

We don’t need to talk to the dying for the answers we already carry with us; we all know what we need to do. The tragedy comes when we choose to act when it’s too late…

On Happiness

On Happiness

Carl Sandburg wrote a poem about happiness. It goes like this:

Happiness
I asked the professors who teach the meaning of life to tell me what is happiness.
And I went to famous executives who boss the work of thousands of men.
They all shook their heads and gave me a smile as though I was trying to fool with them
And then one Sunday afternoon I wandered out along the Desplaines river
And I saw a crowd of Hungarians under the trees with their women and children and a keg of beer and an accordion.

A Happy Weekend

The weekend that was saw this:

  • A visit with my mom and uncle.
  • A couple simple, but nice, breakfasts.
  • Recording podcasts with a friend.
  • A good evening nap on the couch.
  • A couple beers while chatting with my wife.
  • A Facebook challenge to a friend to post a photo of him wearing a tiara. (Yes, there exists a photo of me in a tiara in an attempt to get him to post a photo.)
  • The longest walk (on a vaguely cool evening) since my wife sprained her ankle.
  • A nice, long drive with the windows down to suck up a bit more of the cool evening.
  • Waking up early Sunday to step outside into cool weather on the first day of fall.
  • Watching a movie with my wife.

A Happy Week

This week: I’m sure there will be walks, writing, and time to read and relax. A dinner with a friend is already scheduled for Wednesday. Cooler weather in the mornings I go into the office; darker mornings and a little extra sleep if needed on the days I work from home. Unknown things that will just happen and be cool. A lot of simple, repeatable things.

Carl Sandburg was right: there’s no real secret to being happy — it’s as easy as finding things you like that you can do every day. The rare bad day at work doesn’t win because when it’s done, I can let that fall to the side and go for a walk and talk with my wife about other things. I can write, sit on the couch and enjoy the sound of the dishwasher, or meet up with a friend.

When happiness is found in everyday things, it’s pretty easy to be happy every day.